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Astroturfing Artificially Shaping Opinion

Updated on July 8, 2014

Astroturfing Creating or Changing Public Opinion

Astroturfers are people paid to write posts for Internet forums as though they were ordinary members of the public. The posts support the aims and opinions of the organization or person financing the campaign. They seek to groom public opinion on an issue. Astroturfing is believed to have started when the Tobacco industry sought to prevent legislation restricting sales of tobacco to teenagers they organized a letter campaign to politicians and newspapers from supposedly outraged citizens who believed it was a parents responsibility.

The term Astroturfing comes from the claims by Astroturfing companies that their artificial grass "looked like the real thing".

The Internet has made Astroturfing even easier to organize with Astroturfers creating up to 70 online identities . Now are rumors that you can even buy computer programs to completely automate the process.

Astroturfing is not confined to politics, product review websites are plagued by phony reviewers who are either praising products to the skies or alternatively negatively reviewing rival products. Be warned!!

Read below how to recognize Astroturfing and whether it is a threat to democracy.

smoking in children's movies: astroturfing
smoking in children's movies: astroturfing

My first Experience of Astroturfing

How Astroturfing is organized

I clicked on a link "Disney to Ban Smoking in new Films" on a news website I read the rather neutral announcement and then read the comments section below the article. To my surprise this was full of comments from people who were horrified at thought there would no longer be smoking scenes in children's movies, apparently this was political correctness gone mad and it was the job of parents to decide to guide their children. What surprised me more was there were whole threads of people agreeing that this was a bad thing.

At the time I just thought it odd, later on I heard about Astroturfing and the penny dropped.

Later I came across the "Confession" of an Astroturfer claiming that he had over 50 online identities which he could use to make himself represent a whole online community.

Had you heard of Astroturfing before Poll

Had you heard of Astroturfing before?

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Astroturfing Duel Debate Module

The left and right both accuse each other of Astroturfing, to launch or seed apparently spontaneous grassroots campaigns. I have seen it used to attack global warming but I've also I have seen real forum posters exposing it. I think there's a danger that Astroturfing could backfire for the industries that finance it.

Do businesses have the right to fight negative opinions by any means?

Yes many businesses are unfairly attacked

Yes many businesses are unfairly attacked

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    No they already have many ways of getting their message across

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      Astroturfing Poll

      Had you noticed Astroturfing in Forums before?

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      How to spot Astroturfing Posts

      IDENTICAL POSTS If you find a post you suspect, copy the text into Google and see how many times it has appeared on the Internet.

      AGREEING POSTS: Several posts seem to very similar indeed as though the Posters knew each other.

      DISINTERESTED: Astroturfers aren't necessarily well paid so their post may not actually be very relevant to the discussion.

      JUST HAS an ODD Feel or wooden language

      AVOIDING THE SUBJECT: Ignoring whether or not say smoking is bad and just concentrating on libertarian issues.

      DEFENSIVE: I think sometimes Astroturfers are a bit ashamed

      On IMDB when a movie has been really panned by the critics then a series of planted comments from the studios appear these are easily recognized by the IMDB community, firstly the "plant" has never commented on any previous move, secondly it's usually defensive, why do people take movies so seriously.

      Phoney Product Reviews on the Internet

      I am not proud to write this but I recently bought a product based on its excellent reviews.Afterwards I got an itchy feeling and went back and reviewed the reviewers I noticed too late that they almost always gave 5 star reviews and that many of them had reviewed the same products as each other. After a while I noticed a similar sort of clever but sloppy style of comment. I even wondered if it might be the same person with multiple identities doing all the reviews.

      These reviews have since been removed with real reviewers complaining about the "fake reviews" so once again was this a tactical error by the company?

      Astroturfing Facts, Incidences of Astroturfing

      If you are thinking of setting up an Astroturfing Campaign be aware of the risks if you are found.

      • Astroturfing became common among hackers after it came to light in early 1998 that Microsoft had attempted to use such tactics to discourage the Department of Justice's antitrust action against them. This backfired disastrously however by angering a number of state attorneys-general enough to induce them to go public with plans to join the Federal suit. It also embarrassed genuine defenders of Microsoft opening them up to the accusation “You are just astroturfing!”

      Repair your Company's Online Reputation

      Since I started this lens I have received two unsolicited emails from different companies promising to repair my business's online reputation.

      They say they can drown out any existing negative reviews by adding hundreds of positive reviews.

      It is possible of course that they would also be prepared to use the same tactics to harm the reputation of my rivals (Black Ops).

      Where will it stop?

      FUD Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt
      FUD Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

      FUD Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

      Use FUD to damage the reputation of rivals.

      FUD is a tactic used by usually large corporates to damage the reputation of smaller upstart companies with exciting new products. Doubt may be cast on the legality, reliability, damage it can cause etc. When done well it can seriously hurt the sales and cash flow of the smaller company which may then go under. Microsoft are allegedly the champions of FUD and can use their wide network of friendly blogs, magazines to propagate these rumors.

      I only seek to inform. In auctions shills (i.e people working for the auction house or seller) are illegally used to both get an auction going or drive up the price. Occasionally they end up "accidentally" winning the lot although this is embarrassing it just means they have put the item back into the next auction. eBay ban sellers that use a second account to bid on their own auctions but it can take a while before they realize that illegal bidding is going on.

      Astroturfing Feedback

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